Spousal Abuse and Domestic Violence

Domestic violence or violence between intimate partners, results in the deaths of approximately four women every day and accounts for thirty-one percent of female homicides in the United States. (Mills). For a long time, domestic violence was looked at as a private and personal matter that didn’t necessarily call for police and prosecution concern. In some cases, the victim would have to pay the prosecutors a fee in order to have their abuser prosecuted (Mills). Now, when it comes to the legality of domestic violence issues, domestic violence is defined as a crime against not only the victim in the situation, but the state as well (Buzawa). As times change and domestic violence is finally being looked at as a legal matter instead of a private or personal matter, law enforcement, prosecution, and the court system in general have come under fire for lack of action to protect the victims of domestic violence.

According to Virginia’s 2013 annual domestic and sexual violence report; A review of preliminary homicide data for 2012 indicates that there were at least 117 family and intimate partner homicides in 2012, representing approximately 34.0% of the 344 homicides in Virginia for the year The most common factors that precipitated these domestic violence homicides included the following: verbal dispute of an unknown topic (19%), Child abuse or neglect (16%), The ending of an intimate partner relationship (15%), Financial issues (13%), Substance or alcohol use (12%), and the perception of or discovery of a new intimate partner (10%) (Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, Domestic and Sexual Violence 2013 Annual Report ). 1 in 4 women (24.3%) and 1 in 7 men (13.8%) aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime (National Domestiv Violence Hotline ). Virginia statute Va. Code Ann. § 19.2-81.3 allows arrests to be made at the responding officer’s discretion when dealing with domestic violence situations. It is not mandatory to make an arrest, but it is strongly encouraged to do so. Because of the repercussions that have represented themselves of not making arrests, and the criticism against law enforcement, prosecution, and the courts for not doing enough to help domestic violence victims, mandatory arrest and no-drop laws as well as more options for domestic violence victims should be implemented within the United States starting with Virginia.

Within Virginia There are 58 organizations that provide domestic violence services at some level. When looking at homicides in the state, about a quarter of the victims were killed at the hand of an intimate partner or loved one. In 2017, Prosecutor Colin Stolle’s office launched a new campaign in hopes to help victims of domestic violence and reduce the amount of domestic violence related homicides. This campaign was designed to address some of the challenges that prevent victims from ending any abusive relationship that they may be stuck in. It also helps to educate and provide resources to these victims. The goal is to get these individuals stuck in a potentially dangerous situation out and to safety. One of the biggest suggested solutions to aid domestic violence victims is to provide safe houses and hotlines for victims to go to and/or call for help. To help get the message to victims, a short public service announcement has been released to air on local television stations and in movie theaters within the city (Harper). In Virginia, it is not required of commonwealth attorneys to prosecute misdemeanor domestic violence cases. According to Virginia’s 2013 domestic and sexual violence report, 17,664 Domestic violence crimes were reported to law enforcement officers. 20,718 arrests were made and of these 20,718 arrests, only 26% ended in convictions of the abuser. Of these numbers, 1016 felony charges were filed and of the felony charges 90% led to convictions (Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, Domestic and Sexual Violence in Virginia ). When going back to Colin Stolle’s plan to help domestic violence victims, the Virginia Beach Commonwealth has made prosecuting domestic violence cases a priority. They try upwards of 1,500 domestic violence cases a year (Harper). While leading officials within the state have provided resources and plans in order to help domestic violence victims, they are not doing enough to punish those guilty of abuse and domestic violence. Mandated arrest and no-drop laws, as well as extra precautions during trials to protect victims while testifying should be implemented within Virginia Beach Police Department and Commonwealth.

There are many reasons that many individuals believe these laws would be beneficial to the U.S. and help to lower rates of domestic violence. In many situations where domestic violence takes place, nothing is ever resolved because the victim is too afraid of their abuser to take any action against them. In so many cases throughout the U.S, law enforcement officers respond to domestic calls from the victim, friends/family of the victim, and concerned neighbors. Whether responding officers witness acts of domestic violence or not when responding to these calls, many times in these situations it becomes up to the victim to decide whether they are going to cooperate and go through with charges against the abuser/aggressor or not. Often the victim will back out on charges and become uncooperative with law enforcement when it comes to aiding in the investigation of the matter. In many jurisdictions, prosecutors routinely drop domestic violence cases because the victim requests it, refuses to testify, recants, or fails to appear in court. In these situations, prosecutors dispose of approximately fifty to eighty percent of cases by dropping the charges against the abuser (Corsilles). Mandatory arrest, but more specifically no-drop laws, take this possibility out of the equation. When a no-drop law is in place it denies the victim of domestic violence the option of freely withdrawing a complaint once formal charges have been filed.

This in turn really helps the prosecution’s case and allows them to go forward on trying the abuser instead of dropping the case due to the victim being unwilling to cooperate (Corsilles). When mandatory arrest laws are implemented it completely takes out the chance of the situation from starting back up and continuing once officers or whoever/whatever is interrupting the situation leaves. When an officer responds out and arrests the party believed to be responsible for the situation, they are completely removed from the scenario. This may also give a victim a chance to breathe and think without their abuser around, which may give them some confidence and give them the push they need to get out of the situation and continue with charges. One of the biggest complaints against law enforcement in domestic violence situations is that they do not do enough to help the victims. With these laws in place, complaints of this would go down dramatically because mandatory arrest laws force officers to make an arrest when they have probable cause that an act of domestic violence has occurred. One of the biggest upsides to mandatory arrest and no-drop laws is that they help to eliminate the possibility of the perpetrator walking off with no consequences and stops them from going right back to the victim and doing the same thing over again.

While it can be argued that mandatory arrest and no-drop laws are beneficial to domestic violence victims and should be adopted in every state in the United States, critics have proposed many reasons discouraging these laws as well. It is strongly believed that because mandatory arrest laws strongly suggest/urge officers to make an arrest in claims of domestic violence that there will be an increase in wrongfully arrested individuals. An officer comes into a scene either when it is over or after significant factors in the case have already played out. They come in not knowing the entire situation and must input their opinions and judgement into what is basically a he said she said situation. When mandatory arrest laws are in place often there are dual arrests due to the fact it is hard to determine the aggressor and the victim in the situation. In these cases, the officer couldn’t determine the problem individual so both parties get arrested. When this happens its possible one of the individuals should not necessarily have been arrested which can lead to the wrongful arrest of the victim (Akron). A huge concern when looking at these laws has been the violation of the victims’ rights. Many find that the criminal justice system should not enforce criminal statutes without paying attention to what the victim desires, because it is damages their autonomy (Kuennen, 2010, p. 517). It is believed by many that if a victim does not want to prosecute, they should have every right not to. Many times, a victim decides not want to prosecute for fear of retaliation by their abuser. They know that if/when the abuser gets released that it may be a lot worse for them than if they did not prosecute, even if they have left the abuser. In many cases, when the victim gets out of this relationship, the abuser may not accept this and choose to keep harassing them (News).

Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney Colin Stolle emphasizes domestic violence cases are a priority to the commonwealth but does not mention protecting the victim if they go to trial. Safe houses and hotlines can only help a victim so much in some situations. According to former police officer and attorney at law Robin Sattahip, depending on the evidence code within the jurisdiction of the crime, it may be allowed for the victim to testify via phone or video conference with a notary present to verify identity and administer the oath in person. In some cases, depending on circumstances, the witness may be allowed to be deposed under oath ahead of time instead of testifying during the trial. Generally, this happens in rarer circumstances where the witness cannot make it to the trial. It is also possible to submit a written testimony as evidence if the witness cannot or will not testify. This is something that is not always accepted and may be hard to get accepted to be admissible in court. Another downside to this, is that it is easily objected to by the defense as hearsay evidence (Robin Sattahip). If all these options are available under certain circumstances already, why can it not be adapted in court to allow these circumstances to benefit the victim? Many times, the victim does not want to testify because they are afraid of the abuser and do not want to face them in court.

Ultimately the best way to get some victims to testify may be to allow them to do it anonymously to the abuser. In this situation, allow the court officials, prosecution, defense attorney, and anyone pertinent to the investigation/case to know the victim is the one testifying but withhold the victim’s name from the defendant. If the victim knows the defendant will not know that they are testifying against them it may increase the chances of the case going to trial and allowing justice to be served. It is understood the anonymous testimony is a harder thing to get approved do to some suggesting it would be a violation of rights on behalf of the defendant. If courts could adapt policies where the victim can potentially testify from another room via phone or video conference, they could testify without seeing their abuser and still be cross-examined by the defense. This situation is beneficial to the victim, they don’t have to go through the trauma of facing their abuser while they testify against them, but it also assures the defendant’s rights are not being violated.

Critics of this suggestion may argue that things such as written statements instead of testimonies and testimonies that would be anonymous to the defendant are against the rights of the defendant. By using written statements over testimony, it takes away the chance for the defense to cross examine it. According to Jeff Jaeger in the Nevada Appellate Report, The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment guarantees that [i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right. . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him In accordance with that right, prior testimony from a witness unavailable at trial is admissible only if the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross-examination. Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 68 (2004) (Jaeger). This clause states that every defendant has the right to proper cross examination of any witness testifying against them. This factor nullifies the proposed solution of letting the victim testify anonymously or submitting their testimony in writing. Which leaves allowing victims to testify via phone or video conference with a notary present to verify identity and administer the oath as the best possible solution. By allowing this, it is giving the victim is a safe and secure way that offers some peace with testifying while allowing the defense to cross examine them.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Domestic violence does not discriminate. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender can be a victim “ or perpetrator “ of domestic violence. It can happen to people who are married, living together or who are dating. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels (National Domestiv Violence Hotline ). Virginia Beach commonwealth, Law Enforcement individuals, survivors of domestic violence, and concerned individuals are already working to implicate new solutions to help victims of domestic violence. In a city where domestic violence is taken very seriously, as mentioned by Virginia Beach Prosecutor Colin Stolle, the statistics surrounding this issue are still far too great. This city is already on the right track to helping victims but by mandating arrests and no-drop policies, as well as implementing precautions within the courts to help protect victims when testifying, it can make a positive impact and set an example for surrounding cities.

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